6 founder burnout symptoms you probably won’t recognize

If you think that burning out means you are completely exhausted and can’t do anything anymore, think again. Sure, those symptoms are definitely part of burnout, but only in its final stages. Often, when you experience them, it’s already too late. No wonder, a lot of founder burnout symptoms don’t even look like exhaustion. They look like the opposite. Let’s examine them.

1. Working til late

It might seem normal to you: work until late at night and/or in the weekends. Maybe it’s because you are also working a 9-5. Or you have kids and you won’t be able to get any work done until they are asleep. In most cases, it’s probably because there is still a ton of work to be done.

You might not think of it as one of the founder burnout symptoms. Especially when you have just started your business, or started a new project, it won’t feel as a burden to you to put in the extra hours. You are enjoying it immensely and you probably feel energized by it. Why go to bed if you can have fun building your business?

Still, this drive to prove yourself is one of the most described and experienced parts of the first stage of founder burnout. It’s called the honeymoon stage, and that name is on point. Just like a couple of newlyweds, you are embarking on a new adventure, and feel poised to give it everything you have got. You are full in.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a good portion of motivation, especially if it’s just for a short periode of time. But being a startup founder is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. So train for endurance and make sure you recharge. Otherwise you might not make it to the finish!

2. Lack of Social Interaction

It doesn’t take a genius to see how working around the clock will also interfere with your social calendar. Thinking that success takes sacrifices, you might think that time with friends and family is less important than work. And somewhere in the back of your head there is a notion that you will have plenty of time for parties and get-togethers once your startup is successful.

But what seems like a temporary sacrifice, might actually be a sign of an emerging vulnerability and a symptom of founder burnout. According to one study, social withdrawal might even be one of the most important symptoms defining burnout 1.

What seems like a temporary sacrifice, might actually be a sign of an emerging vulnerability and a symptom of founder burnout.

So, if you find yourself turning down invitations, think about why you are doing this and realize it might be a sign.

3. Mind fog

It happened to me when I was writing this blog. I was searching for an expression and, though it was on the tip of my tongue, I just couldn’t come up with the right phrase. Okay, maybe that was because English is not my first language. But as it so happened, I couldn’t even find the Dutch words. I was experiencing a bad case of mind fog.

I talk to a lot of founders who have experienced something similar. Some are devs who are searching for the right expression or variable in a coding language, while others just can’t find the right file or email on their computer and I even talk to people who can’t remember what they had for dinner yesterday.

According to scientists, it is just a sign that you are extremely busy and preoccupied. So, nothing to worry about. Or is it?

As it so happens, brain fog is a form of cognitive impairment, which is in fact one of the founder burnout symptoms. So, if you are unable to focus on what you are reading, you should zoom out and take a break.

4. Procrastinating

Founder burnout symptom no. 4 is related to cognitive impairment and brain fog, but yet in a different category, procrastination is definitely a sign that something is off.

Procrastination is a startup founder symptom

Putting of tasks doesn’t mean you are lazy. Yes, you might lack motivation, but just as often it only means you are lacking focus. If you are unclear about where you are heading, what your goals are, it is very difficult to define the next step. That increases the odds of procrastinating.

And don’t underestimate the effect of exhaustion on your self control. Of course you want to be disciplined, but when you are depleted, or overwhelmed, it is quite difficult to jump into action mode.

5. Sharing startup founder memes

The ability to put things into perspective is probably a good thing if you want to make it in any business. No better way to lighten up a dark day than with some relativistic jokes. But the self-depricating of most startup founder memes can also hint at something darker.

Many memes are relating to ignorance, naivety and making first founder mistakes. The underlying message: “why am I stupid enough to hang on to this dream?”

Founder memes are actually a form of the cynicism that is one of the key elements of burnout according to the WHO. In a way, these memes are a way to distance the founder from his business and role.

So, if you are sharing founder memes you might want to ask yourself: “Am I just having a little fun or is this a symptom of founder burnout?”

6. Being always on

You know you shouldn’t check the emails. That it is way better to touch some grass during the weekend. But still, you can’t help but think that your customers deserve a quick answer, and what if there is a bug in the system?

The feeling that the whole world is going to pieces when you are not working has a name: Fear of Missing Out or FOMO. And sure, if you want your business to succeed you should provide good service. But being unable to let go also means you are heading in the wrong direction if you want to prevent burnout.

According to several studies, FOMO is linked to workplace burnout. And there are countless founders who can testify that this type of behavior is exactly what they experienced in the weeks and months leading to their burnout. Like Dagobert Renouf, who remembers doing customer support at 11 PM while being away for the weekend with his wife. “I think it was one year before my actual burnout. And now looking back, I’m like, this was clearly a warning sign”, Dago says in his podcast This Indie Life.

Unfortunately, at the time he was unable to recognize it as a founder burnout symptom and eventually burned out.

Other founder burnout symptoms

Of course, these are just a few symptoms of founder burnout. There are many more. Check them out in our guide on founder burnout. You might find that some of them are more aligned with your ideas of what burnout is supposed to look like.

But the thing is, what burnout looks like is different for every founder.

The symptoms in this article are easily missed because they belong to the first stages of founder burnout. They are early warning signs that can help you prevent falling deeper into the trap of founder burnout. So watch out for them and if you recognize them, act!

1 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178121003206

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top